GOP debates 14 & 15 allowed the candidates to attack each other in pithy attack sound bytes and avoid heavy lifting on real policy. How was something as serious as determining the next President reduced to an episode of “I’m a Celebrity Politician, Get Me Out of Here!”? It’s ESPN’s fault!
This election is a perfect made-for-ESPN hybrid. It’s a cross between showing us every single pick in the “NFL Draft” and “Behind the Scenes of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Shoot.” Michele Bachman and Herman Cain were voted off the island as was Rick Perry (he just won’t leave). Buddy Roemer, Gary Johnson and Thaddeus McCotter talked common sense but could not get on the debate stage – no room for thinking in this GOP.
That left viewers with six wannabee leaders, three without money or organisation to last very long beyond Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary (Gingrich, Huntsman and Santorum), and a party wanting to nominate anybody but presumptive frontrunner/nominee Mitt Romney, a man who makes Al Gore look energetic. The 5th candidate has been ignored yet is the only one to have money and organisation to match Mitt in every market – Ron Paul.
So why blame ESPN? Whilst reading the book “ESPN, Those Guys Have All the Fun” by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, it hit me why we have this 3-yr-old inner child’s attention span induced news/cable monster to feed 24/7/365. Drinking coffee Sunday morning with my neighbour John, he said his son was talking on the cell phone with him and he said something incomprehensible. Turns out he was also simultaneously having a Skype video call with his girlfriend and, likely, following websites on his computer and phone.
A group of computer geeks wrote a blog post this week saying there is no way any woman will meet a guy if she spends her time with her head buried in her phone. And ESPN created this mess!
It started in 1983 when Bill Grimes and Roger Werner created a two-tiered revenue threat system that forever linked everything from advertising to sport ticket prices to programming that grabs and titillates. By forcing cable companies to cough up an amount per subscriber or lose their network, they ultimately saved ESPN and buried the rest of us in a torrent of money. Had cable stuck to the one-tier, you only survive if advertising generates revenues to keep the lights on model, a truly GOP (so they say) survival of the fittest model based on an ability to pay their bills from ad sales, we, the people, might have had a chance.
When you watch CNN, CNBC, FOX or MSNBC news and financial tickers so overwhelm and fill the screen, you need to tune them out to focus on the speaker… but you can’t. Even during the debates, logos, location, LIVE and other bits consume the bottom 1/3 of the screen. On ESPN and FOX Major League Baseball coverage there is no room to show the actual play because pitch speed, strike zone location, news crawl, scoreboards and on-screen adverts pop-in and out like alien life forms.
This could be the year party platform messages during nominating convention coverage appear as part of the news ticker crawl. Then a bomb blast in Helmund province followed by platform statements on women’s reproductive rights could be tricky.
We’re so overloaded with the urgently inane, we miss the important. When will we ask questions such as… is this candidate good for the country? Does this candidate have positions I support? Are we really going to elect someone who would favour bombing Elbonia? (Quick, how many even recognised that as a fictitious country from the Dilbert comic strip?)
News has become ubiquitous and meaningless in the same breath. Substance in politics, the ultimate oxymoron falls second to candidates’ ‘Q’ scores. Will we really pick our President in 2012 on the basis of his movie trailer voice of doom advert, closing statement and pithy debate zingers vs. anything of substance?
In a word Yes. Politics has been ‘ESPNised’. Give me the highlights and make sure that game of the night is reduced to an :18 second package (including EVERY key play) or the viewer is outta here! And yet we find ourselves so distracted I’m convinced the candidate that simply stops the graphics, turns down the noise and treats us like human beings capable of thought, will win this race.
Yes, I am naïve and yet still hope we can get to a place where real dialogue, debate and discussion mean something vs pundits telling me what it was I just saw, then spinning it to their point of view.
Until then? It’s ESPN’s fault!
Denis G Campbell is the author of 6 books including 'Billionaire Boys Election Freak Show,' 'The Vagina Wars' & 'Egypt Unsh@ckled.' He is the editor of UK Progressive Magazine and provides commentary to the BBC, itv Al Jazeera English, CNN, MSNBC and others. His weekly 'World View with Denis Campbell' segment can be heard every Thursday on the globally syndicated The David Pakman Show. You can follow him on Twitter via @UKProgressive and on Facebook.
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